The film that pops to mind when seeing “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is another Marvel Knights effort, “Punisher: War Zone.”
Like “War Zone,” this movie isn’t necessarily a sequel, but it doesn’t entirely ignore its predecessor either. Both are insane, offbeat films that follow ones that were fairly standard mainstream efforts, going for broke with a cuckoo characters and twisted approaches, “War Zone” with its sticky violence and “Spirit of Vengeance” sporting the directing team of Nevaldine/Taylor’s avant-garde style.
Nicolas Cage returns in the lead, kicking his prescription of crazy pills into overdrive as Johnny Blaze, an Evel Knievel-like stuntman who sold his soul to the Devil, a shady-looking suit who goes by the name Roarke (Ciarán Hinds). Blaze made the gamble to save his dying father, but of course, the forces of darkness came to collect by imbuing Blaze with the spirit of “the Rider,” transforming him into a chain-swinging, soul-sucking powerhouse with a flaming skull for a head whenever he finds himself in the presence of evil.
When word gets out that Roarke is trying to use a small boy named Danny to switch into a stronger body, a wino motorcyclist priest named Moreau (delightfully portrayed by Idris Elba) enlists in the reluctant Blaze to act as protector to the boy and his mother (Violante Placido). With a team of thugs lead by the relentless Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) on their tale, a chase across eastern Europe ensues.
Nevaldine/Taylor are known for their daffy “Crank” films, which translate the anarchic spirit of the wackiest of video games to film better than any movie based on a game could ever hope to. The travels of Blaze aren’t as eye-poppingly bizarre as the drug-fueled misadventures of Chev Chelios, but we won’t hold that against it.
Cage is an actor who gets a lot of grief for his output these days, but I always find him relentlessly enjoyable to watch, even in movies that are terrible. I wouldn’t count “Spirit of Vengeance” among those. The first “Ghost Rider” film was a glossy-but-stale effort, but Nevaldine/Taylor bring a wicked sense of humor and madcap fun to this one. Seeing the Rider storm a quarry and transform a massive Bagger 288 into a flaming wheel of death to make short work of a hoard of unfortunate henchmen while he giggles with demonic glee is one of many nutty highlights that puts Nevaldine/Taylor’s twisted sense of humor and their video game sensibilities front and center. Cage flipping out on many an unsuspecting baddie seals the deal.
“Spirit of Vengeance” is my kind of beer-soaked Friday night viewing.
I’d recommend avoiding watching this film in 3D, as Nevaldine/Taylor’s kinetic direction doesn’t lend itself well to the additional visual noise imposed by 3D. The film looks fantastic in 2D on Blu-ray, the way God intended. If you’re into this one, save yourself a few bucks and go with the sans-3D Blu. It provides more of an in-depth making-of documentary than one would expect from a movie like this. It suffers a bit from the syndrome of feeling like a promotional bit, but you can’t expect anything more from a new release.
Where the features knock it out of the park is in the video commentary with Nevaldine/Taylor. The whole notion of a video commentary comes off like a superfluous idea, as no one wants to watch the people doing the talking while the movie plays. But the boys only break in when they want to show you how they shot a tricky scene, and they simply talk over the rest like a traditional commentary.
Their witty banter makes for a fun listen, cracking jokes and even going so far as to give insight into the eastern European locales where they shot the film. A worthy purchase for anyone who enjoyed this oddball Marvel effort.
Other Noteworthy Releases
“Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows”: Guy Ritchie’s revival of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective excelled in bringing a strong bromance between Holmes and Watson, their witty relationship giving its merely decent plot some serious spice. The sequel brings Holmes’ nemesis, Moriarty (Jared Harris) into the fold, but wastes the potential the great villain has on a boring steampunk action plot. Not even the bromance can’t even save it, as “Game of Shadows” simply recycles the same subplot of Watson threatening to leave Holmes in favor of settling down. The prospect of a Sherlock Holmes revival seemed promising before, but after only two movies, it seems to be completely out of ideas.
Good Deeds: I’ve never seen a Tyler Perry movie, but I give him points for being hilariously corny, playing a character named Wesley Deeds in a movie entitled “Good Deeds.” The plot of this film makes it sound like he saw “N-Secure” and decided to make the lead of that film into someone a lot less despicable. In all seriousness, it’s hard not to admire any independent filmmaker who has turned a carved niche into a prolific empire operating outside of Hollywood.
Harold and Maude: Without “Harold and Maude,” Wes Anderson’s career might not have existed in the way that it does. Criterion is bringing this morbidly funny ode to enjoying life into the fold of their collection, so you can throw out that bare-bones disc from Paramount. Features include a new HD transfer, a commentary with Hal Ashby, Nick Dawson and Charles B. Mulvehill, a new interview with The Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens.
The Gold Rush: Criterion adds another Charlie Chaplin film to the collection, this one being the one where Chaplin’s Tramp cooks his boot, no doubt giving Werner Herzog some ideas. Their releases of “Modern Times” and “The Great Dictator” are must-own items for Chaplin fans, this one no doubt brings the goods as well.
Shallow Grave: Yet another Criterion release, the seem to be making it rain this week. This 1994 thriller directed by Danny Boyle paved the way for a major breakthrough with “Trainspotting,” and it remains a favorite among his fans.
Red Scorpion: An eighties action curiosity starring Dolph Lundgren, written and produced by Jack Abramoff. Yes, THAT Jack Abramoff. There’s even an interview with him on this brand new Blu-ray from the good folks over at Synapse.
Available on Blu-ray/DVD combo
Meatballs: While it ain’t no “Stripes,” this comedy pulled Ivan Reitman out of the realm of churning out exploitation movies like “Cannibal Girls,” and plopped him into the mainstream, beginning a fruitful relationship with Bill Murray.
This post originally appeared over at Parcbench